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All About Bread – Sourdough Basics

Run out of yeast or just want to taste the old ways of bread? Check out what sourdough is and how easy is to make it ahead!

Sourdough is a leavening agent, traditionally used in bread making, that is cultivated through natural fermentation. This process allows for the creation of a light and airy dough. Sourdough also adds a depth of flavor to various recipes, making it a versatile ingredient.

Creating a sourdough starter is a simple process that requires only three main components. Flour, water (or other liquids like juice, milk, yogurt), and a unique combination of microorganisms: lactic acid bacteria and yeast. These microorganisms can be airborne or present in the raw ingredients themselves.

When baking bread, a sourdough starter is employed instead of commercially produced yeast. This substitution results in a distinct and complex flavor profile for the final loaf. Notably, the specific taste can vary greatly depending on the sourdough starter used.

This variation is attributed to the specific types of microorganisms present within the starter. The diversity of these microorganisms across geographical locations allows bakers to cultivate a wide range of flavor profiles through the use of different sourdough starters.

Sourdough’s Ancient Origins and Potential Health Benefits

Sourdough boasts a rich history, dating back to ancient civilizations where it served as a dietary cornerstone for many cultures globally.

The earliest sourdough production occurred in ancient Egypt around 3700 BCE. Archaeological findings point towards the Egyptians’ use of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria to ferment dough. This process resulted in a lighter and potentially more digestible bread compared to the denser flatbreads prevalent at the time.

The longevity of sourdough, persisting for thousands of years, is further bolstered by its potential to become a significant player in the future bread market. This suggests a growing recognition of its potential benefits for health-conscious consumers.

Sourdough’s Health Benefits


Sourdough bread is often viewed as a healthier option compared to other breads due to its slow energy release and potentially improved digestibility.

This benefit is attributed to sourdough’s low glycemic index (GI). When consumed, sourdough is broken down and releases energy gradually, helping to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. This sustained energy release can contribute to feelings of satiety and potentially aid in appetite management.

Furthermore, the fermentation process in sourdough is believed to enhance the nutritional profile of the bread. By breaking down some of the grains’ complex structures, fermentation may make the nutrients and minerals within sourdough bread more readily available for the body to absorb and utilize. This potential benefit extends beyond bread, as fermentation is also employed in the production of other foods like cereals and legumes.

Gut Health

Sourdough bread may contribute to a healthier gut microbiome due to its increased presence of beneficial lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria are similar to the probiotics found in yogurt and other fermented foods, and contribute to a balanced gut environment.

Research suggests sourdough bread may be easier to digest than other breads. The extended fermentation process characteristic of sourdough production can be seen as a pre-digestion stage, breaking down some of the complex carbohydrates in the flour before it reaches our digestive system.

Sourdough Starter

How to Make Sourdough Starter

Creating a simple sourdough starter can be achieved with just two ingredients: Flour and water.

  1. Prepare the container
    Opt for a glass jar, a non-metallic plastic container, or a clay container. Avoid using metal containers to avoid potential reactions.
  2. Combine the dry and wet ingredients
    Add 100 grams of water to the jar, followed by 120 grams of flour. Gently mix the flour and water until a smooth consistency resembling applesauce is achieved. Ensure the jar sides are clean to prevent dried starter clinging.
  3. Cultivate the starter
    Leave the mixture at room temperature (ideally between 20 – 35°C).
  4. Daily feedings
    Every 24 hours, repeat steps 1 and 2. Add 100 grams of water and 120 grams of flour, ensuring the jar sides remain clean.
  5. Observe the transformation
    Over time, the starter will become more liquid and exhibit bubbling due to increasing acidity. A slight unpleasant odor during the first few days is normal.
  6. Reaching maturity
    After five to seven days (depending on flour type), our starter should be bubbly and have a slightly acidic taste. Testing the pH level can help determine baking readiness. Aim for a pH below 4.2, as this acidity eliminates any potential pathogens. A starter meeting this criteria is considered mature.

How to Maintain a sourdough starter

Proper storage is essential for maintaining a healthy sourdough starter.

  • Refrigerate the starter
    A sealed, non-metallic container made of glass or plastic is ideal for fridge storage. This environment helps preserve freshness and prevents contamination.
  • Maintain room temperature for feedings
    Before feeding, briefly remove the starter from the refrigerator to allow it to reach room temperature. This creates optimal conditions for active cultures. Both excessively low and high temperatures can hinder the starter’s activity.
  • Minimize exposure
    Tightly sealing the container and avoiding frequent opening helps maintain CO2 levels, promoting a healthy starter. By following these steps, the starter can remain viable for extended periods, potentially lasting several weeks.
  • Long-term storage documentation
    If planning to leave the starter unattended for an extended period (months), consider taking a video or documenting its current state. This serves as a valuable reference point to assess its health upon revisiting.

Achieving the Rustic Look

Premium sourdough is known for its characteristic rustic crust. This aesthetic results from longer fermentation times and higher hydration doughs, both facilitated by sourdough starters. The right ingredients and processes are crucial for achieving the desired “waxy” texture and superior flavor.

Troubleshooting Sourdough Starter

Sourdough pancake

Sourdough starter at its peak exhibits visible bubbling and emits a fresh, fruity aroma.

  • Discarding Excess Starter
    A crucial aspect of feeding involves discarding a portion of the starter. If not addressed, the starter will continually expand, becoming unmanageable. The discarded portion can be composted or used in various recipes that utilize discard starter.
  • Temperature Matters
    Remove the starter from the refrigerator and allow it to reach room temperature. Optimal starter activity thrives in a warm environment.
  • Increased Feeding Schedule
    Implement a more frequent feeding regimen. Daily feedings for a period of several days to a week are recommended to stimulate the starter’s activity.

Common Sourdough Starter Concerns

Maintaining a healthy sourdough starter is a rewarding experience, but occasional concerns may arise.

  • Dark Liquid Layer
    Upon removing the starter from the refrigerator, a dark liquid layer on top might cause alarm. Rest assured, this is a normal byproduct of yeast activity! During fermentation, the yeast produces alcohol, resulting in this harmless liquid. While not recommended for standalone consumption, it poses no health risk. The liquid can be gently stirred back into the starter or discarded according to preference.
  • Sourdough Starter Resilience
    Sourdough starters exhibit remarkable resilience. Extreme temperatures are the primary threat to their viability. For the most part, minor neglect or fluctuations won’t cause permanent damage.
  • Signs of Spoilage
    The presence of pink or orange streaks within the starter indicates the growth of harmful bacteria or mold. In such cases, discard the starter and initiate a new one to ensure safety. Similarly, visible green fuzzy mold necessitates discarding the starter and restarting the process.

Preserving Sourdough Starter


  1. Spreading the Starter
    Using a parchment or foil-lined sheet pan, spread a thin layer of starter across the surface.
  2. Drying the Starter
    Allow the starter to dry completely. Ambient air drying is sufficient.
  3. Storage
    Once thoroughly dry, transfer the dehydrated starter to an airtight container for safekeeping.


  1. Dissolving the Starter
    In warm water, dissolve the desired amount of dried starter.
  2. Feeding and Reactivation
    Following the standard feeding regimen, gradually bring the starter back to life through regular feedings at the usual intervals.

Starter Activation

Prior to baking, ensure the starter is active!

This can be achieved by removing it from the refrigerator the night before and feeding it. The presence of vigorous bubbling in the morning indicates optimal starter activity and readiness for baking. If bubbling is not yet evident, repeat the feeding process and allow for a few additional hours.

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